Taking A Shot In The Candlelit Darkness, Or The Super Minor Thing That Annoys Me

I don’t have anything earth-shattering tonight. Just a brief rant.

Have you ever heard a sermon where towards the end the pastor slows down the pace, pause before he tongue clicks against the roof of his mouth and says “now I don’t know where you are. Maybe your marriage is in trouble and your wondering if it can be salvaged. Maybe you’re barely keeping your head above water in your finances and on the brink of losing your house. Maybe you just received news this week of a family’s member cancer.”

For some reason this little thing so commonly found in sermons annoys me. To steal their way of speaking maybe it’s because they’re guessing what we’re going through – because they don’t actually know what we are going through. Maybe it’s the light organ and occasional Edge-esque guitar ringing as the lights soften. Maybe because it’s the new emo alter call. Maybe it’s the way it only uses big flashy struggles and neglects the less famous but arguably more heart-stripping struggles every human being fights.

Is this a big deal? Is asking a question and then immediately answering it annoying? No to the first, yes to the second. I’m not trying to change the world with today’s post, I just wanted to see if anyone else has picked up on this annoying sermon tactic.

Does this bother you too? Or am I just being nit-picky? If it does feel like a bug bite for you too, what is it that makes it annoying? 

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21 Responses to Taking A Shot In The Candlelit Darkness, Or The Super Minor Thing That Annoys Me

  1. Carolyn says:

    Let me begin with saying I’m good with having an altar call. Whether you “go down front” or you go to the back where people are waiting to pray with you. But when the preacher gets that emotional quiver in his voice and the emotion-wringing music starts in the background, I want to puke. (Strong reaction, I know.) It is what I like to call “fluffy emotionalism”. Getting people worked up. It reminds me of 80s music (which I happen to love). We had all of these anthem-type songs about how we were going to conquer the world and nothing could stop us. We would sing along and our spirits would soar. And then the song was over and there we were, still in our t-shirts and blue jeans, sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck. We hadn’t conquered anything. But for those few moments we had felt like heroes or something. I think grunge in the 90s was a direct response to that. A “no, we aren’t going to save the world and when the song is over our life still sucks so shut up for the love of pete” reaction. I think church can be like that. If we are being given fluffy emotionalism that doesn’t affect a change past the time we get to our car in the parking lot. Let me qualify this by saying that I don’t think that every church that has music playing in the background during altar call and prayers is doing this. I have just seen enough of it to have it turn me off completely. I don’t know what to call that – but getting people all worked up how Jesus is going to CHANGE YOUR LIFE (and don’t get me wrong – He will for sure), but I think we lead people to believe that He will change their life immediately in ways that we cannot promise. And that leads people to disappointment and leaving the church. Jesus has changed my life in so many ways. But I still have hard stuff happening in my life. Please don’t let someone start playing the keyboard in the background while you try to convince me that all of my troubles will be over if I just come and pray with your team of people who are waiting up front to pray with me (and they have boxes of kleenex if you need them). Hmmm… rant must beget rant or something. Thanks for the space, Charlie.

  2. Bernard Shuford says:

    I hate it when people moan and groan about music during altar calls. See, I’m a musician who does a lot of music during altar calls. And I don’t do that music to trick you. To force you. To play on emotionalism.

    I do it because otherwise we’re all standing there embarrassing the person who needs to go pray. And that’s bad.

    Sure, you can pray from your seat. Not a problem. But maybe you’d like to pray alone, at an altar of sorts, and maybe you need to cry a little. Maybe you don’t want everybody in the building hearing you sob or even know what you’re praying about. Maybe a tune that sorta fits with the theme of the sermon will help you focus enough to say, yeah, I need to go pray about this, and if I stay here in my “pew”, I’m not gonna pray very intentionally.

    But.

    Speakers who jerk people around emotionally really wear on me. Even when they have the good intentions of leading people to Christ, because I’ve really got problems with that particular language. (“Preach the gospel and make disciples.” ) I believe that Christ pursues us much more than we could ever pursue him, so that’s my thoughts there…

    I’ve been in churches where there was no music during the altar call. Completely different environment, and it’s somewhat church sensitive.

    But let’s stop acting like the musicians who play “Just As I Am” are full of the devil or something. What they heck you want us to play? “Highway to Hell”????? “Whole Lotta Love”? “Brown Sugar”? OF COURSE WE’RE GONNA PLAY SOMETHING THAT MAKES PEOPLE WANT TO PRAY. And there are certain chord progressions, styles, and speeds of songs that resonate naturally with human emotions to make this happen. THE ABSENCE OF MUSIC DURING THE ALTAR CALL DOES NOT MAKE YOUR SALVATION ANY MORE SECURE, NOR DOES THE PRESENCE OF IT MAKE YOUR PRAYER ANY LESS SINCERE.

    Dang. Sorry. I’m a little tweaked at all the modern noise I hear knocking / mocking / disapproving music during invitations / altar calls.
    :)

    Love and peace.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Lord have mercy! Did I imply that the musicians are full of the devil? If so, then I am sorry… I think music is a beautiful way to worship. And not all music is “fluffy emotionalism”. But when it is… geez, Louise… even when I don’t like it I don’t think that makes the people full of the devil. I’m just going to run away now…

    • Bernard Shuford says:

      No, no, I’m not fussing at you – I’m sorry! I’m more frustrated at the fact that I see a “music during invitations is bad” mentality in so many places. Please don’t think I was jumping down your throat! Sorry!

      • Carolyn says:

        Bernard, at this point I really need to be getting on the road but that still, small voice makes me turn back. After I read your comments, I wanted to delete, delete, delete, unsubscribe from Charlie’s blog and hide under my desk. I might speak out sometimes, but I am truly such a fearful person that if somebody says boo to me I almost faint. When you mentioned the devil it was like boo-and-a-half. But I’ve been doing all this work with POTSC about grace, never beyond, who would you give a second chance, blah, blah, blah. And God reminded me of that. So if I don’t show some grace to you, I can’t really tell them I’m doing this, can I? So basically God told me “do your homework or no recess”. Bleah.

        I would imagine that as a musician some of my comments would have come off as mean or hurtful or just downright irritating. I hadn’t actually thought of how a musician might respond and I should have. I’m sorry.

        To explain my point a little further with minimal musician bashing :) , let me point out that I come into this discussion highly biased. I was raised in the Church of Christ (the real one – not Charlie’s). We had absolutely no instruments in that church. There were people who would get mad if the song leader used a pitch pipe before starting the song. We all learned to read music and sing four-part harmony out of self-defense. We had an altar call – it was called “the invitation”. And we sang an invitation song, standing up so if anyone wanted to “go down front” we wouldn’t all be able to gawk at them. Once the song was over though, silence. When it was time to pray, no more singing. Just the sound of some man’s voice praying. So by the time I started going to churches that had instruments, I was more sensitive to anyone jerking emotional chains – with or without music. I am sensitive to the music because I have seen people use it to yank chains. I’m sure you have too. I’m also sensitive to it for another reason. I think that people need to learn to pray into silence. Seriously. You know why? Because the musicians aren’t there when we need to pray the most. Where were you, Bernard, or any of the other musicians two weeks ago when I found out that my husband had lied to me? Where were you when I was asking God how I was going to deal with that? I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was married to someone totally different than who I thought I had married and there was NO MUSIC playing in the background. It was just me and God. I couldn’t even manage to imagine crickets chirping. But I needed to pray. And I needed to know how to pray into the silence. There are so many times when I think we give people these “helps” to the point that they become crutches. And one day you end up without your crutch. So yes, let’s play the music during altar call and prayer. And let’s do it without music too, so people know that they can. And may we never, ever say that our musicians are full of the devil. Amen.

        Now I really have to get on the road…

      • Bernard Shuford says:

        Carolyn – I’m incredibly sorry that you felt attacked by what I said. Seriously. That’s just not the kind of guy I like to come across as. And thanks for your thoughts and for taking the time to write them out when it was obvious that you were pressed for time. My opinions are strong but I promise that you don’t need to run and hide from me. I only beat up bad guys. That’s supposed to be a joke, because I don’t think I’ve beat up anybody in a long time. Like, my whole life…

        I’v been in the kind of church you describe, too, just not as a Church of Christ. These were mostly Free Will Baptist. Those churches are actually not the ones I meant at all, believe it or not. What gets on my nerves is kind of a complicated thing that is more aimed at quasi-Calvinism that eliminates invitations and altar calls almost entirely. I don’t mind silence at all. It’s WHY the silence is there.

        Honest moment – I wish there were fewer “public” prayers in churches, period. More should be private, and more should be silent. Yet, there’s not a hard and fast rule, in my opinion. Too much of what we call “prayer” is actually lecturing cloaked under the guise of “I’m talking to God, so you need to shut up and listen, and now that I’ve talked to God about it, you better be doing it!” But that’s not “invitation” prayer – that’s usually the same preacher that we’re saying is emotionally manipulating the people.

        All said – all music is manipulative. Country music. Rock music. Folk music. Southern gospel. Gregorian chants. Kenny G. Bryan Adams. Berlin. Danger Zone. ALL music creates an environment.

        When I play, I really hope that I’m helping create an environment where people feel comfortable doing the thing that is the focus of the moment. Respecting a couple about to get married. Mourning the loss of a friend or loved one. Celebrating life. Praising God for Christ. Settling issues through prayer that they may have been convicted about during the sermon. Often, I’m at the piano praying while no one else has even come forward. Often, I need it worse than the others. Maybe always. And while I’m very often intentionally manipulating the environment, I don’t want to manipulate the individuals.

        I’m not the best musician ever, but I realize the dangerous power in what a musician does. Even with a song a listener has heard a thousand times, a new voice and a new touch often mesmerize them to the point they can’t turn away – especially a talented performer. That’s a power, and it’s not to be regarded lightly. Yet, I believe it can be used for good rather than evil, even while it is possible for it to be used wrongly.

        Much of what church musicians do “nowadays” is formulaic and manipulative, and while I support church musicians and encourage creative work in this regard, there is a certain amount of grace that does need to be given.

        In love :)

        Hope you have a great day. And please don’t delete, delete, delete, or run and hide. Thanks for sharpening.

      • Bernard Shuford says:

        Can I add one more tiddlybit?

        I am fully with you in your opposition to the preacher who says “come and Jesus will fix your life!” For one, I’m a Christian who has battled certainty of salvation to the core and not one single time has EVERY problem in my life been fixed. I’m still tempted to sin. Horribly. I still do sin. Unexcusably. I still eat too much. I still cuss. I still complain. I still doubt God. I’m still tempted to drink sometimes. I’m rarely tempted to smoke but it’s there. (And I’m not pounding those who do – but I KNOW it’s very wrong for me…) I’m tempted to lust. I’m tempted to focus on all the wrong things.

        The only sinful issue that I have ever been completely delivered from is porn. And that happened sitting at my desk with no preacher, no music, no altar, no singing, no pew.

        And neither does that mean that there is no temptation. But the dreadful, cursed hold that it was developing was ripped away.

        But that doesn’t always happen. My opposition to altar calls is that we promise all the wrong things. “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Personally, I think the entire freaking church should be kneeling at an altar praying privately, with just enough music to force the privacy so that others CAN’T hear what we’re saying and start getting all personal with our mess a lot more of the time than we sit and listen to announcements, special music, or even sermons. But we make the “altar call” that little “life changer” at the end of the service for those wicked sinful backsliders and “lost” and so we jerk at their emotions to try to get them to respond on that basis, because “we” often know that our “gospel” that has been preached really doesn’t touch the heart in itself. “We” know that we didn’t pray over the sermon properly, and we ;definitely can’t say that we gave our 100% best EVERY Sunday, so we use music to fill in the gaps.

        And that’s very wrong.

        At least, in my opinion.

        Again, forgive my overpowering delivery. Charlie, sorry to steal your post.

  4. Bernard Shuford says:

    To take this a little further, it’s a very “generational” thing.

    Old people respond differently to your Edgeesque guitar than teenagers and college kids. The fact of it is, when someone goes to a church, they are MUCH more likely to conclude that “Christianity is for me” if the music is somewhat close to their personal style preferences than if it’s not. At least in time frame. It’s REALLY hard to get large numbers of youth to be truly comfortable if you’re playing Bach on an organ. Seriously. But play David Crowder with guitar and drums, and their response is “this is not foreign to me”. They resonate with the music, so they resonate more with the people of the church, which removes a barrier to their encounter with Christ.

    Even silence is manipulative. Silence during an altar call doesn’t allow for gentle, gradual “wading into the pool”. It demands that you either jump in all the way – first time, even though you’ve never swam or even been wet – and gives no choice.

    Music can help remove barriers. Satan loves churches that allow barriers to experiences with Christ to remain strong.

    People who are more obsessed with a certain definition of “the right kind of altar call” than they are obsessed with people experiencing Christ might need to evaluate their love for those who are far from God.

    Now I’ll get off my soapbox.

  5. David says:

    If it is God what does it matter, Charlie? The point of sermon is to get people to respond, and hopefully to God. The big problem is that they don’t do it like it is in 1 Cor 14. No clicking there. ;)

  6. Larry Hughes says:

    As we enter the Lords Kingdom some day there will be music and song proclaiming the majesty of our God and giving Him praises for His grace. I can imagine it would b quite an emotional experience. I couldn’t imagine that it would be utter silence as we arrive with out any fan fare.

    Music expounding on God’s love and grace moves me far greater than a simple sermon from others besides God.
    So let the band play on to add atmosphere to a most holy occurence.

  7. Chris says:

    Hey Bernard and Carolyn,

    I hope it’s obvious to you guys (especially Carolyn) that this was just a case of misunderstanding over one thread in the blogosphere. It seems pretty clear that no one was attacking anyone else. We all just rant here from time to time, but I think for the most part people that contribute to this blog stay respectful, even if they vent passionately, which is nice.

    Anyway, after being here a little while I’ve come to the conclusion that I really do not understand and am not personally familiar with the kind of church culture that has brought on this blog and that everyone here seems to share. I’ve grown up in several different kinds of churches and I guess none of them would qualify as ultra-conservative. Of course, ultra-conservative is in the eye of the beholder. It depends on where you stand. I once had an elder at a former church tell me he thought I was ultra-conservative while he viewed himself as moderate/liberal. I had to chuckle. I told him “If you think I’m ultra-conservative you need to get out more.” And from where I stood what he called moderate looked like flaming. I guess we all like to think of ourselves as moderate. It makes us feel more reasonable and level-headed. Anyway, I guess if I had been part of a very rigid church upbringing I might be reacting the same way a lot of people here do, I’m not sure. I’d probably be really tracking with Charlie. But because my experiences have been by-and-large good ones, I don’t quite feel the need to rail in the same way. My instinct is to defend churches more, or maybe I should say, to defend the people in them more, because the church is the people after all. If you don’t like the people in your church you most assuredly won’t like the structures (ecclesiastically speaking) that support it. I think I’ve just been very, very blessed to have taken the circuitous journey that God has taken me through, even though I have strongly disagreed with people at times.
    Maybe the difference I’ve found in the churches I have been a part of has been just that. I’ve been allowed to disagree, without feeling pounced on. If you can never question the status quo you will feel very stifled. And if I disagree with people and wind up on the losing side I can either move on or stay. Either way, for the most part I’ve always felt that I could grant honest disagreements and still have great respect for the person I’m disagreeing with. I’ve been blessed that way I suppose.

    I also don’t feel the need to rail quite so much about itchy little practices in my church, because by and large it’s a good church. I certainly don’t agree with everything. Probably the music in my church is very similar to what you describe Charlie. I’m not overly fond, nor moved by the music there. It does at times seem to resemble teenage love songs to my boyfriend. Kind of emo. But to me the music is not a hill I’m going to die on. It wouldn’t be the reason I would move on. The teaching. The doctrine. The people. The leadership. Those I think would be good reasons to stay or leave. Anyway, I’m not really sure if I can contribute here meaningfully, seeing as how my experiences are so different.

  8. theoldadam says:

    We Lutherans do not have altar calls (because God chooses us…we don’t choose Him – initially anyway).

    That tecnique of asking the question, or mentioning a few things that may be affecting some in the congregation is really an application of the law. Because everyone has something that is getting them. So this applies the relentless demand of the law ( death, sickness, loss of any kind) to the person.

    In a good Lutheran sermon it would not be folloew up by more law (an altar call – or anything else that WE DO)…but rather by the unmitigated promise of the gospel and the announcement that Jesus promises to one day dry every tear, to heal all your illnesses, and to raise you from the dead.

    So it is, Law/Gospel…and not Law/Gospel/Law .

    An altar call turns the gospel into the law…with all the best intentions.

  9. theoldadam says:

    I guess the closest thing we to an altar call, is when we come forth to recieve the body and blood of Christ Jesus at the communion railing.

  10. John says:

    Well, I have to be honest. I didn’t know whether to jump into this one or not. In answer to your question Charlie, I have a real problem with emotional manipulation and those who desire it. The majority of today’s “church thinking” is geared toward human efforts. We forget that the “Holy Spirit” is the One who draws. There are certain hymns that will put a tear in my eye, especially if it was one my parents (who are gone) loved. I have a Christian friend who uses emotion as a benchmark for one’s sincerity. None of this has anything to do with the supernatural power of an Almighty God who gives freely the gift of Salvation. There is certainly nothing wrong with music at prayer time or an alter call, but God doesn’t need us for anything, let alone to create an atmosphere or help Him get someone “saved”. We have such an ego problem!
    By the way, I have become well acquainted with Bernard and I can tell you that he is a fine individual, with profound insight, who, like myself, is only interested in the truth.

  11. Pingback: Charlie Apologizes For Neglect, Or The Most Difficult Post To Create A Second Title For | Charlie's Church of Christ

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